Tigers shake off adversity, focus on football
2017 was supposed to be the year that the rest of Region 4-4A caught up with Marshall County. On the heels of the 2016 squad sending six players to the college ranks, an unbelievable amount for a mid-level 4A team, the Tigers seemed ripe for the picking.
But for the third season in a row, Lewisburg's finest found themselves in the semifinals of the state playoffs, needing just one more one win to challenge for a 4A state title in Cookeville.
A 49-24 loss to eventual champ Greeneville (15-0) left the Tigers just shy of the finish line once again.
However, 2017 was not without its memorable moments.
The Tigers opened the season with an impressive 27-20 loss to 6A state runner-up Cane Ridge (13-2), lost in the final minutes at perennial powerhouse Pearl-Cohn 28-24, spanked former region rival Giles County 49-28 and beat region challengers Maplewood and Spring Hill two times each on the way to a third straight undefeated region campaign.
The Tigers non-region schedule, which featured two 6A, one 5A and two 3A squads, was considered to be one of the toughest in the entire state with a total 46-18 overall record and all five teams making the state playoffs.
Many considered the tough non-region slate a key component in the Tigers third straight run to the semifinals.
The 2018 schedule will feature the exact same gauntlet of non-region contests, but this season region 4-4A, which swept region 3-4A in the opening round of the 2017 playoffs, is expected to be the toughest region competition the Tigers have faced in years.
"I think it will help in the fact that our kids won't be surprised by the caliber of opponent that we are playing," fifth-year Tiger coach Thomas Osteen pointed out. "We have a handful of kids that have been in those tough battles and know how hot the heat is in those type contests. Arguably our schedule is even tougher this year with our region being the best top to bottom as it's been in the last five years."
The Tigers graduated some major talent on both sides of the ball in Mr. Football finalist Kamron Liggett (1834 rushing yards, 34 TDs), offensive lineman Dave Roberts (Austin Peay), all-state defensive end Tavi McLean (UT Chattanooga, 99 tackles, 16 TFL, seven sacks), and defensive back Grant Agnew (Maryville College, 82 tackles, six passes defended).
Add in do-it-all Hunter Cummings (Kentucky Christian, 233 all-purpose yards and 70 tackles, nine TFL and two interceptions) and Brandon Rowan (732 all-purpose yards, 30 tackles).
But two big components expected back for 2018, left unexpectedly.
Bryce Wallace, understudy of Mr. Football Finalist Ashton Posey as freshman, blossomed under the Tiger system his sophomore and junior seasons, passing for 4,650 yards on 353-532 attempts with 48 TDs and just 11 INTs while rushing for 835 yards and 12 more touchdowns, transferred to Giles County just days before camp opened for the season.
Rising junior standout Devon Wilson, who caught 37 passes for 589 yards and nine touchdowns on offense and added 25 tackles and two interceptions left for Columbia Central at the end of the last school year.
But each of the previous four seasons under Osteen, several so-far unknown players will have the opportunity to step up and fill the holes that the graduated and moved-on have left.
"We tell our kids all the time that life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we react to it," Osteen, who holds a 42-11 overall record at Marshall County said. "We as coaches and players have been given a wonderful opportunity to display that mantra and perseverance due to the events this summer."
"I feel that we have as good a program in place in regards to all the different components that it takes to be successful as any in southern Middle Tennessee," Osteen added. "We have had supportive administration, dedicated boosters, a coaching staff that has had great continuity, and most importantly a bunch of dedicated players that have continued to raise the bar of commitment each year."
Losing both Wallace and Wilson would be a big setback to any squad but thrown in a Mr. Football finalist (Liggett) in the backfield and a D-I signee (Roberts) on the offensive line and the offense will be one big question mark coming into the 2018 campaign.
"Every team is different and with as many new faces as we have on this team I think it may be sometime into the season before we establish a true identity," Osteen admitted. "However, if this team is going to have success we no doubt have to establish an identity of physicality on both sides of the football."
"Our receiving corps and passing game has no doubt experienced the most turnover from last year," Osteen continued. "Gone are three starting receivers from a year ago and a quarterback. We will be a work in progress as this young group will be forced to grow up early in varsity football."
But like most seasons of Tiger football, the cupboard is not completely bare.
While most outside the Tiger family saw the Wallace transfer as the end to the Tigers season before the games even began, Marshall County fans that had the opportunity to watch Wallace's back-up Malik Thomison on the field, know the panic is premature.
Thomison, a rising senior, passed 15-for-17 for 124 yards and rushed for 130 yards and three scores on 19 attempts in 2016.
"Iíd say my football IQ is above average for a high school player, so that should be a key asset for me going against defenses as a quarterback," Thomison stated. "A strength would be running the ball, I have a pretty good feel on how to rush downhill successfully."
"We just have to believe in each other and stay focused on the task at hand," Thomison added. "We have to take the coaching weíve been given for years. Our guys have been coached and been practicing these techniques for three years now. So, we have to have attention to detail in practice day in and day out."
And probably the most important ingredient of all, Thomison has a stable of play makers that believe in his ability to lead a team.
"We really encouraged him and have been getting with him to work on different throws on our own time outside of practice," senior receiver Dagon Stacey said. "Everyone on the team and off the team have been encouraging him to do his best and heís been doing really good, so Iím excited to see him become a leader and a huge part for us."
Stacey, the leading receiver on offense with 466 yards on 28 receptions for four touchdowns, has been working hard during the offense to get stronger and become even more of a deep threat for Thomison.
"I've really worked on getting faster and worked on getting stronger in the weight room this off season," Stacey, who also added 26 tackles and an interception on defense, said. "As well as (playing) different positions to help our team out the best I can."
The Tigers will welcome back senior running back Elijah Taylor, who rushed 162 yards on 40 carries as a sophomore before missing the entire '17 season after suffering a knee injury late in a dominant effort in the season opening jamboree.
Another Tiger to watch in the backfield will be junior Javarria Rucker.
The 5-9, 155 pound speedster made the most of limited touches last season, averaging 10 yards per carry with 91 yards and two touchdowns on nine attempts while adding two catches for 19 yards and another score.
Riqkyous Summers will also get a look after gaining 20 yards on seven carries and defensive standout Andrew Gold will also get a look on offensive in 2018.
"I have been incorporated into the offense," Gold stated. "I mostly work with the running backs. I feel that Iíll be used most in short yardage situations or when we just need to get some guys some breaks since it isnít my primary position."
Sophomore wide receiver A'ky Howard totaled just one reception for nine yards last season, but expect a breakout season from the former middle school quarterback.
Despite graduating some key figures on the offensive line, the Tigers will welcome back some big bodies to help pave the way for a brand new batch of blue and white running backs.
"This year I feel like the offensive line has been the most physical one in the past couple years we have had," senior X'Zavier Garrett, who has played alongside two Division I linemen signees, said. "We have been working on being more efficient and execution of our plays. Our run game is a major key to our offense this year and our goal is to pick up at least two or three yards a play, just the concept of old school smash mouth football."
"The (college signees from the offensive line) taught me the ropes of hardnosed Marshall County football and one thing I've really learned is new techniques from them on how to make my game better and watching them become successful and getting D-1 scholarships," Garrett added. "That made me want to achieve the same goal they did. I am proud to have had them to work with me for those couple of years."
Garrett leads a big senior class on the line with returning starters Marcus McCord and Jayshon Wilcox.
"Everybody as a unit has to work together in unison for success on the field this year, attention to detail every single snap," Thomison emphasized. "We are going to surprise a lot of people with the depth of athletes we have for us on the offensive side."
"Receivers who have stepped up would be Marcellus, Aky, Kel Greer, and Javaria Rucker," Thomison continued. "They will be a key to our success this season. Of course, Dagon Stacy too but heís really the one with the most experience on the offensive side so we will rely on him a good bit this year."
The trademark stingy Marshall County defense was back in full force in 2017, giving up just 27 points against 6A runner-up Cane Ridge to start the season and allowing just 49 points in the final four games before the Greeneville loss.
And although the Tigers graduated some heavy hitters last season, the 2018 defense looks to be in great shape.
"I think we have an outstanding group of big strong, athletic, physical kids," defensive coordinator Jerry Cobb, a former MTSU linebacker, said. "Our front six or seven is going to be the group we rely on to make it hard on the offenses running the ball and pressure the quarterback."
"Our secondary is very capable as well," Cobb continued. "Overall we have some very dynamic personnel and a bunch of good ball players. Every week our goal is to completely take away what the offense does best, so we do whatever is necessary to get the job done."
The front line starts with Jayshon Wilcox, the Tigers next big college prospect. Wilcox, a 6-1 and 295 pound defensive tackle holds offers from UT-Martin and Tennessee Tech with a handful more schools showing heavy interest.
Wilcox finished 2017 with 62 tackles, six tackles for a loss, four sacks, 10 quarterback hurries and a game-winning 25-yard interception for a score against Maplewood.
Garrett, who added 24 tackles, two tackles for a loss and two quarterback hurries will be another key figure on the defensive line.
Seniors Hunter Lancaster (20 tackles) and Bennett Fleming will be the Tigers with the most game-experience in the middle of the field at the linebacker position.
The defensive backfield will be the position with the most experience with Stacey, Gold, Antonio Warren and Marcellus Campbell all turning in above average campaigns in 2017.
"This fall I feel that we are well rounded in the secondary when everyone is healthy and that weíre gonna have a really good season and surprise a lot of people," Gold, who had a breakout sophomore season with 67 tackles, four passes defended and an interception, said. "We moved some guys around and had a couple new guys decide to play that I feel will be major parts of our defense."
"I feel that the coaches really made it a priority to clear up coverages and what to use in what situations and making sure we understand everything."
Marcellus Campbell was an absolute ball hawk in the secondary last season, leading the Tigers with five interceptions, three passes defended, and 51 tackles.
"The strong points in the defensive backfield this year are playing the pass and our safeties being able to be more effective in the run and pass game," Campbell explained. "You can expect our (defensive backs) to be the biggest play makers on the defense."
"The defense as a whole this off season has got smarter and stronger," Campbell continued. "Last season I felt we were young and not mentally or physically prepared for varsity football and it showed with us allowing 90 plus points in the first three games of the season. We have a more versatile and athletic defense this year than in recent years, so weíll be flying around making a lot of plays this year."
With the Tigers fielding so many big names on defense last season, Antonio Warren was the unsung hero.
Warren turned in a monster junior campaign with 59 tackles and four tackles for a loss with a pass defended.
"What makes me play so hard is my family, coaches, and my teammates because I donít want to let them down and I trust my teammates to do their jobs and they trust me to do the same," Warren mentioned. "Iíve been working on my covering skills and getting faster."
"We have good coaches that coach us hard to play hard and physical all game and donít give opponents anything easily," Warren added. "Youíll see a lot of us moving around in the secondary and expect us to be aggressive this year."
The Tigers will have hard work cut out for themselves on both sides of the ball, but the defense will be the side that sets the tone for how the season will go and just like the past extremely successful seasons, there is no special recipe, just good old hard work.
"Our method is simple: lift heavy and run fast, work hard every day, compete, do what's right and don't complain and finish," Cobb explained. "There's no secret pill. Our guys know we have to do everything as best we can all the time to give ourselves the best shot to be successful."
The Tigers will jump right into the fire with a road contest August 17 against Cane Ridge.
The Ravens have a combined 33-6 record overall the past three seasons with just three home losses during that span.
The Ravens also feature at least six different players holding Division I offers on the 2018 team.
But like every Tiger fan, even the players have that one or two game to look most forward to.
"Iím excited to play every game," Gold said. "I feel that I have a lot to prove because I donít believe that I performed anywhere close to my capabilities last year. If I had to choose though Iíd say Maplewood and Giles."
"Maplewood because theyíve picked up some new guys and in the past years weíve had some good games with them and Giles just because itís the rivalry that everyone gets excited for every year and other recent events."
2018 Marshall County Tigers
1 Marcellus Campbell DB/WR 5-8 147 Sr.
2 Lamarion Pierce DB/RB 5-9 130 Fr.
3 Javarria Rucker RB/DB 5-9 155 Jr.
4. A'Ky Howard WR 5-7 133 So.
5. Malik Thomison QB/DB 6-0 155 Sr.
6 Devonte' Davis WR 5-11 141 Fr.
7 Dagon Stacey TE/LB 6-0 196 Sr.
8 Kel Greer TE/LB 5-10 193 Jr.
10 Boo Shirey DE/FB 5-11 213 Jr.
13 Kortez Ingram DB/RB 5-6 120 Fr.
14 Bryson Hammons QB 5-10 150 Fr.
15 Keshun Gentry DB/WR 5-9 175 Sr.
16 Hunter Rolof WR 6-0 150 So.
17 Riqkyous Summers RB/LB 5-10 170 Jr.
18 Christian Stacey LB/QB 5-10 191 So.
20 Hayden Sheppard DB 5-8 145 So.
21 Andrew Gold DB/WR 5-9 174 Jr.
22 Tristian Griggs RB/LB 5-9 160 Fr.
23 Kaden Whitson DB/RB 5-7 143 So.
24 Hunter Lancaster LB/FB 5-11 220 Sr.
25 Antonio Warren DB 5-10 174 Sr.
26 Connor Hilton DB 5-9 155 So.
27 Iyasen Biggers DB 5-7 140 Fr.
28 Elijah Taylor RB 5-7 186 Sr.
29 Jeff Cares DB 5-3 128 So.
30 Tristian Ward LB 5-5 160 Fr.
31 Quientin Springer DB 5-9 135 Fr.
33 Kamarian Ingram DB/WR 5-7 131 Fr.
34 Jon Estes K 5-9 145 So.
35 Will Medley DB 5-8 155 Sr.
36 Joseph Gold LB/TE 6-0 170 So.
37 McAlister Wilson LB 5-10 175 Fr.
38 Nathan Pinedo DB 5-6 116 Fr.
39 Bennett Fleming LB 5-10 225 Sr.
40 Kamron Dunnivant LB 5-7 145 Fr.
41 Shawn Burgess LB 6-1 153 Fr.
42 Kane Johnson LB 5-10 187 Sr.
43 Ethan Petty LB 5-8 156 Sr.
44 Keylin Talley DL/TE 6-0 263 Jr.
45 Cameron Rucker LB/TE 5-9 175 Fr.
46 Logan McKnight DE 6-0 179 So.
50 Noe Eusebio OL 5-6 223 Jr.
51 Bradley Wright DL/OL 5-11 189 Fr.
53 Chandler McMahan DL 5-8 203 So.
54 Kogan Metcalf OL 5-8 170 Fr.
55 J.J. Rodriguez DL/OL 5-9 207 Fr.
56 Matthew Fuller OL 5-5 216 Jr.
57 Trey Cozart OL 6-3 260 Sr.
58 Chandler Davis OL 5-4 166 Fr.
59 Damon Wilkins OL 5-6 241 Sr.
60 Austin Wright OL/DE 5-6 230 Sr.
61 Halen Bryant OL 5-9 300 Sr.
63 Charmello James DL 5-6 178 Fr.
64 Omari Armstrong DL 5-11 300 So.
65 Terry Gulley OL 5-8 260 Jr.
66 Gannon McMahon OL 6-0 217 So.
67 Caden Dunn OL 5-8 262 Fr.
68 Matthew Hazlett OL 5-11 254 So.
70 Tez Allen DL 5-9 299 Jr.
71 Kris Hall OL 5-11 248 So.
72 Jayshon Wilcox DL 6-1 295 Sr.
73 X'Zavier Garrett OL/DL 5-10 255 Sr.
74 Zach Moore OL/DL 6-0 195 Fr.
75 Marcus McCord OL/DL 6-0 295 Sr.
76 Abel Gray DL 5-10 315 Sr.
78 Colton Cashion OL 6-0 240 Fr.
79 Ethan Miller OL 5-9 188 Jr.
80 Dravin West WR/H 5-9 149 So.
81 Xavier Brown WR 5-5 115 Fr.
82 Omarion Alfred WR/DB 5-6 127 Fr.
83 Casey Southerland WR 5-6 132 So.
86 Greg Luna LB 5-9 145 Jr.
2018 Marshall County Tigers Schedule
August 17-at Cane Ridge
August 24-at Shelbyville Central
September 28-Lawrence County* (HC)
October 5-at Giles County
October 12-at Spring Hill*
October 26-at Nolensville*
All game start at 7 p.m.
*Denotes Region Game